2004 World Monuments Watch
The Kariye Museum – originally Church of Christ in the Chora Monastery – houses a wealth of mosaics and frescos commissioned by the statesman and scholar Theodore Metochites (ca. 1316-1321). The extended iconographic programs of mosaics in the narthexes are devoted to the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary, while the fresco cycle of the parekklesion (funeral chapel) offers themes related to salvation, including unique representations of the Last Judgment and Resurrection. Following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul (1495-1511), the church was converted to a mosque – the Kariye Camii – at which time the frescoes were partially covered. Brilliant and pristine following a comprehensive cleaning and restoration initiated by the Byzantine Institute of America between 1948 and 1958, the exposed frescoes dramatically altered international perceptions of Byzantine art.
The building’s conservation is now long overdue. Notably, changes in the levels of humidity and rising ground water have resulted in the weakening and deterioration of plaster surfaces, which is exacerbated by the leaching of salts that have left destructive efflorescence on the frescoes. Without immediate intervention, the unique artistry of the Kariye parekklesion will be diminished or lost. While an independent study of the conditions has been made, minimal government action has failed to stem the tide of deterioration. Last update: 2004